How we view the prospect of aging in a longevity society depends on what lens we look through, what part of the world we live in, what socioeconomic experience we have and where we are at a particular age and stage in life. How we use age bands to demarcate who is old is an arbitrary choice depending on what discussion you want to frame and what case you want to make for a advocating a policy or promoting an attitude, or marketing a product.
In the numerous studies and reports that I have poured over, (and let me be arbitrary by choosing the period of the last ten years), the age of who is old or older, has ranged anywhere between 45 and 105. Now this may sound like teasing, but it does suggest that, “old is often seen in the eye of the beholder, and you could be an older beholder”.
Aging and making census of it
A year ago, a string of media releases led with the story that for the first time in Canada, “there are more people over age 65 than there are under age 15.” Currently just over 16 percent of the population, we like to call them Seniors.
Right away, this led to the continuation of that framed discussion around the pressure on pension and health care systems billowed by the other exaggeration, peculiar to me at least, that this demographic cohort is growing faster than the rest.
Since when did speed count at age 65? According to the 2011 Census – Generations in Canada profile, rounding it off, when you look at cohort clumps there are 9.6 million people between ages 46 to 65. That’s still close to a twenty year spread to 2031 before all of those become neatly over age 65. And what about those roughly 9.1 million between 19 and 39 right now? They must be aging at glacial speed comparatively. Can’t wait to see the speed limit in the 2016 census.
The factor of speed should have more to do with how fast we pragmatically adapt social policies related to the effect of aging demographics over the next twenty years. Changes tend to be incremental. Immediacy required to address particular matters like the needs of elder care assistance depends on how often we examine and emotionally connect to the issue. If you’re in the thick of arranging elder care for example, then you have a higher sense of and sensitivity to it.
Taking it to the global aging narrative
We are in an era of quantum leaps in technology development – the internet of everything, augmented reality and quick flip access to mega-data – and this stamps our brains with the impression of a world in perpetual motion and speed. No wonder that in our “proactive present” we put such spin on our sense of urgency facing almost every issue that matters in our daily lives.
In Canada right now, if we all applied our sense of urgency to solving broader social and economic items such as developing affordable housing options and discussing the mutual benefits of home health care, that would be useful to younger and older generations alike in that distant 2031. Meanwhile in other parts of the world, the question of who is old is a relative thing when for example, average life expectancy is only 65 and immediate issues at play are political unrest and/or limited medical aid.
A longevity society and its aging demographics may be a preoccupation simply because we have never witnessed it before in such proportion, with such possibility and ability to recode its future. The obsession with numbers of old and older and their arbitrary boundaries and the fix with speed should not distract us from working on improving the quality of living not just in a made in Canada version of the story but for all our global aging narratives.